Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Australia - Break a Leg!

For context, this article was originally published at ACALA Sports Training Systems. It is in the form of an open letter to teammates that were with me at the World Masters Games in Sydney, and a report to teammates that were not with us.


I usually keep a journal on track meet journeys. It helps me remember the sequence of time and specific events during a trip. Often I will jot down an idea or two about topics I want to write about later. Before we left home, I stuck a spiral notebook into my carry-on bag as has long been my custom.

When I got home and began unpacking, I found the notebook, undisturbed, still occupying its original position. I had thought of the notebook on several occasions. Old habits are difficult to suppress, but I never managed to remove the book or write a single thought on its pages. Every page was pristine, the pen clipped tightly to the cover. If a pen could own feelings, it would have been suffering a case of neglect. It might have even glared at me for a few seconds since I had no ready explanation to offer.

Mark Hastings kept a journal. I watched him do it. Mark is always thorough in everything, so I know I can rely on his notes if I need them.

Without a note of any kind I sat down to write a blow by blow tale of the things our Houston Elite group encountered, and how we managed to fake, wheedle or cajole our way around every Australian obstacle placed in our way. I sat for quite a while without entering a single word through the keyboard. I was trying to reassemble a week’s worth of racing, touring and laughing without a written clue. Finally, with the monitor as blank as my notebook, I got up and headed for a meeting with one of my favorite clients. The client didn’t want to talk about architecture and the task he had for me. He wanted to hear all about Australia. Somewhere along the way, he asked me to rate my experiences there. He wanted to know what single event, site, or occurrence I would rank number one. I didn’t know the answer to the question, so I just looked past his smiling face and focused on a wind blown tree that stood outside his window. I took my time. I mentally cycled through the events and the days. He grew frustrated with my processing tardiness and went on to the next question. I left the meeting and began my drive home. My clients question hitched a ride with me. Like a summer mosquito buzzing my head, it wouldn’t leave me alone. Rethinking the week, memories worked their way in, soon to be crowded out by yet another memory, which was in turn replaced by still another memory of smiling faces and the surround of friends.

In that moment, as I drove, I knew the answer to my client’s question. There were too many memories to be ranked. There were too many warm embraces, both physical and mental. Too much laughter and fun to catalog in a tidy Letterman style top ten.

However, I fully realized the fountainhead for the cascade of warm memories. I comprehended the native source of my many fine memories. I had stumbled upon the origin, the wellspring.

The source of all the memories was the result of being surrounded by my friends. We were a tribe of several, and a warm unified heart of one. This was the answer to the previously unanswered question. I wanted to return and tell my client that I had arrived at an answer, and that I didn’t even cheat by looking in the back of the back. I knew the answer. Without my friends, without my tribe, without our unified heart, the source of all the memories and fun would not exist.

After I knew the answer I took the time to begin reviewing the video that Kathleen took of everyone during the competition. Captured on film is an extraordinary 4x100 relay run by a 100 percent Houston Elite team. The film documents a win for Houston Elite at a World Games level. The grand thing about it is we did it against a hand picked team of multi-national athletes that were many years younger than ourselves. The key to the win, no surprise, was the experienced and focused dash down the last straightaway by Coach Bill. Had that been all, it would have been enough to thrill. But wait, as they say on late night TV commercials, there’s more. Coach Bill performed the feat with a stress fracture that literally reduced him to writhing in pain at the end of the race, while he lay horizontal on the track attended by medical personnel. He was horizontal, but we were all victorious.

Why would a man with a ton of world competition gold medals do such a thing? He did it because he wanted to make sure his teammates, his friends, had a medal to take home. I don’t want to discount the remarkable valor of Bill’s sacrifice in any way, but I dare say any of us would do the same for the other. That’s the reason my memories are so warm and plentiful. I have friends that shared it with me, and cared about me all along the way.

There are times when our experiences in life unfold in a way that we can never fold them back. When a friend unfolds his friendship like Bill did that day, and you realize it is so meaningful it can never be folded back again, it can only make us smile, and be entirely aware why our memories are what they are.

I know what’s number one from my Australian trip. It’s all my friends. I promise I will run with a broken leg for you if I need to. Just like Coach Bill.

Please remember to pick me up and dust me off when it’s over. We have more memories to make.

To view the race go to: 4 x 100 Relay

Mark Hastings, Bill Collins, Rick Riddle, Charles Allie

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Appointment of Dictionary Czar Confirmed

Satire - Dallas, Texas

Frustrated that ABC correspondent George Stephanopoulos had the temerity to define the word ‘tax’ by looking it up in a dictionary, President Obama has appointed a new dictionary czar. Spokesman Robert Gibbs announced the appointment of Fred Jefferson at yesterdays press briefing. Mr. Jefferson is a former proof reader at ACORN according to Gibbs. Gibbs added that Jefferson’s extensive experience in proof reading gives him the perfect background to redefine words in a way that works well for the benefit of all Americans. “Production of a new authoritative and ‘flexible’ constitution, err, excuse me, dictionary is the change Americans voted for”, Gibbs continued.

When asked if it was true that President Obama is also considering a tattoo czar, Gibbs said he had no comment. Speculation has run strong in recent days that Kevin Inks, also a former ACORN executive, has been involved in talks with the administration about the possibility of creating a federal tax on tattoos that offer support to conservative ideas and tax breaks for those that support the administration. Contacted by telephone, Mr. Inks said there is no truth to the rumor. He also dispelled the rumor that Americans declining to get a tattoo would have to pay a tax, and that it had not been brought up by anyone outside of ACORN. “Besides, he said, the new dictionary czar should be able to work out all this word definition nonsense about the word ‘taxes’ in time to satisfy the less educated before the new tax is announced.” He added “ooops” before hanging up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Will you still love me, when I'm 92?

Ever wondered what life will be like when you’re 90 years old? I didn’t think so. I wondered it once, but it was because I was watching a local TV newscast about a 90 something year old. He was on the news because he had chased burglars out of his house at the end of a shotgun, while wearing only his underpants. Yep, really slow news night. He didn’t have a twinkle in his eyes. He was all stooped over and wagging a bony finger at the camera. A really big booger was at the edge of his nose. At least it looked like it was a booger. In French, of course, you pronounce it boo-jay, which I think is altogether more artful than buu-gurrr; which is how we say it in Texas. The old fellow was a mess frankly, but after all he was 90-something!

On that particular night I wondered what life might be like at 90 plus. Then I tired of the thought, with it being unpleasant and all, and I went on to think about sex and beer and fast cars. At one point I thought of them in all in the very same thought. It was a combining of the best ingredients of life into a virtual banana split of thinking. Yes, I’m aware that last sentence makes no sense whatsoever, yet any mental cases reading this are nodding their heads up and down and grinning, because they understood it anyway. Caught you didn’t I?

Yesterday, I saw another video of a 90 something year old. In fact, the man is 92 years old. After watching it I understood a little more about grace and dignity. You can watch the video here . Before you watch it however, I should fill you in on some detail. The speaker is named Ernie Harwell. For what seems like the last one million years, he has been the broadcast voice of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with an untreatable cancer.

Mr. Harwell is dying. He knows it. The Tigers fans that love him also know it.

He was asked to address the home crowd as this baseball season grows to a close, a moment pregnant with poignancy since Mr. Harwell’s season of life will end shortly, perhaps before this seasons bats and baseballs disappear from the dugouts.

Imagine you have been told you are going to die very soon. Imagine you have to say goodbye to 45,000 family members, under the lights, in front of a microphone on television and radio. Then pray you might be able to do it this well. If you can do so, it will testify to the fact that you have come to understand the power of acknowledging the ‘joy of your journey’. Listen to 92 year old Ernie Harwell say goodbye.

I was recently asked to collaborate on a book, which is now in publication, in which I pontificate as if I were wise about understanding the joy of life’s journey. The joy of the journey is all important to the quality with which we walk through life. Without this understanding, we merely spend our time moving from one completed action to another. Understanding the process and joy of being involved in the action can bring us new understanding about pleasure, joy and fulfillment. Some have simplified the thinking to a simple catch phrase; ‘living in the moment’.

Mr. Harwell’s farewell is simple, yet charged with a complex dignity that I believe so few of us possess and may never attain. But, I pray to God that someday, I might in my own life approach this same level of dignity when I tell the world goodbye. I pray my journey will have been so complete that letting go of life can seem so easy and even joyful that the word ‘dignified’ is the only word that can come to mind. I just hope I don’t have to do it in front of a microphone with the entire state of Michigan watching.

Watch video here

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ready to be like actually ....................

Back in 2002 I took my son on a tour of college campuses to help him ‘discover’ what school he wanted to attend. He ended up graduating from the good ol rootin-tootin University of Texas, right here near my backyard. Well, maybe its a little south of my back fence, but anyway at least its in his home state. But, before he settled on full time partying and frat slumming at UT, he wanted to see New York University.

If you haven’t been there, let me tell you about it. It’s a unique campus, just cuz it doesn’t have a campus. Its buildings are strewn about the south end of Manhattan like confetti on a windy day, following a hero’s parade before the street sweepers arrive. Each building flies a purple flag on their front, with the logo “NYU” emblazoned on it, or maybe I should say it is imprinted, since emblazoned is probably too effusive a term. The flag has a nifty torch on it too, symbolizing something about' holding out a lamp of knowledge against the darkness of ignorance'. Must have been coined by an Obama speechwriter (speaking of overly effusive) back when he or she was a student. Anyway, the point is, you know you got off the city bus or subway at the correct point, to hold up your lamp, if you see the purple flag on the NYU owned buildings. So what, you ask?

Well, on the tour of NYU, (which - oh by the way - costs per year what 2 new Lexus costs and oozes the same class divide snobbery) there was a very intense, yet pleasant, young man who relied heavily on the phrase ‘actually’. As in saying, this is ‘actually’ where we have business classes, and this is ‘actually’ where the freshmen students can puke after too much beer, and this building is actually near the actual police station for this district. And so forth he carried on, with a steady stream of ‘actuals’ and ‘actuallys’.

At one point, I turned to BEG and said, this kid is overly fond of the word actually! Then I made a prophet of myself. I told her that it must be the newest ‘catch-cool’ phrasing and was likely to spread from Manhattan to Los Angeles and soon kids all across America would be using this phrasing.

How right I was! Now it is even commonly used by major network reporters! I’m ready to throw things. I love words, even though it sounds major geeky and I’m always sorry for sounding geeky, old or cranky – but by God and Jimi Hendrix – PLEASE everyone quit saying ACTUALLY!

First it was ‘like’ this and I was ‘like that’ and I said “Like dude, just get over it” – and now it’s ACTUALLY!

I’m like actually, like banging my head on my actual table, because I have like recently caught myself using this overused word as if it were the damned actual swine flu and I had failed to wash my hands of it.

It has me in its grip. I’d rather be like actually dead.

Do you like, actually here me? Can’t we just move on to the next, yet new, horrible overuse of a common five-cent word?

Sorry, I guess it didn't have anything to do with purple flags after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Etched in the Rain

I was riding in the back of the car watching the rain slash across the windshield, while the wipers cleared the way to drive. My son had stopped at a traffic light. My wife was in the passenger seat. I sat alone in the back of the car, staring straight ahead at my family in the front seat. No one was talking.

The next morning our son would be leaving Texas, for a job in San Francisco.

I was reminded of my father’s death. More specifically I was reminded of the night of his death. It was raining that night too. The night my father died I drove my mother home from the hospital in the rain. It was quiet in the car. Our lives had changed, and both of us were very tired from the hospital vigil and the intense emotion it had brought us. We had little to say, yet we were bound by time and circumstance to one another in this time of pain. Our ride held meaning beyond any routine car ride. It was the type of moment that can renew our role in one another’s lives, a moment that can burn the sights, sounds and emotions into our memories for a lifetime. We all know the rhythmic sound of the wipers moving from the top of their arc to the bottom. We know the sound of the rain, a sound distinct to us all, even with our eyes closed. These are the images and sounds of everyday life that can suddenly etch our memory, when they occur in a significant moment. The sound of the tires across puddles when you’re in motion, the hypnotic image of red and green traffic lights splotched across the windshields surface, reflected off the droplets of water where the wipers can’t reach. When you couple the sights and the sounds with the emotion, like it existed in the car that night, it becomes impossible to erase the memory. When it is silent in the car, the memories burrow even deeper.

The memory of my father’s passing and the quiet bond between me and my mother came home while we sat at that traffic light in my son's car.

I don’t know why the memory chose that moment.

Maybe the power we call fate throws out random reminders of our mortality.

Perhaps the gods expect us to miss the reminders, like we might overlook the note scribbled on a piece of paper in front of us.

This note from fate, or circumstance, or whatever it is that places our minds and hearts and our bodies in a common experience, I didn’t miss. I caught it solidly.

I understood many things in that quiet moment in my son’s car.

I understood my mortality.

I understood the bond between my son and his mother.

I comprehended their allegiance to me.

I understood I was being given a glimpse into the future.

A time when I will not be in the car, yet they will.

I saw a time when the son will comfort the mother, once again.

I understood and caught the moment as though I were already gone.

I understood my place in the world in a more defined way.

I understood it in its past tense and its present tense.

Now, in this moment, I was offered a chance to know it in its future tense.

And I saw it would be alright.

Fate and circumstance will turn in their infinite revolutions.

And it will be alright.